Category Archives: open

watching wikipedia watch

In an interview in CNET today, Daniel Brandt of Wikipedia Watch — the man who tracked down Brian Chase, the author of the false biography of John Seigenthaler on Wikipedia — details the process he used to track Chase down. I found it an interesting reality check on the idea of online anonymity. I was also a bit nonplussed by the fact that Brandt created a phony identity for himself in order to discover who had created a fake version of the real Seigenthaler. According to Brandt:
All I had was the IP address and the date and timestamp, and the various databases said it was a BellSouth DSL account in Nashville. I started playing with the search engines and using different tools to try to see if I could find out more about that IP address. They wouldn’t respond to trace router pings, which means that they were blocked at a firewall, probably at BellSouth…But very strangely, there was a server on the IP address. You almost never see that, since at most companies, your browsers and your servers are on different IP addresses. Only a very small company that didn’t know what it was doing would have that kind of arrangement. I put in the IP address directly, and then it comes back and said, “Welcome to Rush Delivery.” It didn’t occur to me for about 30 minutes that maybe that was the name of a business in Nashville. Sure enough they had a one-page Web site. So the next day I sent them a fax. [they didn’t respond, and] The next night, I got the idea of sending a phony e-mail, I mean an e-mail under a phony name, phony account. When they responded, sure enough, the originating IP address matched the one that was in Seigenthaler’s column.
Overall, I’m still having mixed feelings about Brandt’s “bust” of Brian Chase — mostly because of the way the event has skewed discussion of Wikipedia, but partly because Chase’s outing seems to have damaged the hapless-seeming Chase much more than Seigenthaler had been damaged by the initial fake post. The CNET interview suggests that Brandt might also have some regrets about the fallout over Chase, though Brandt frames his concern as yet another critique of Wikipedia. Brandt claims he is uncomfortable about the fact that Chase has a Wikipedia biography, since “when this poor guy is trying to send out his resume,” employers will google him, find the Wikipedia entry, and refuse to hire him: since Wikipedia entries are not as ephemeral as news articles, he adds, the entry is actually “an invasion of privacy even more than getting your name in the newspaper.” This seems to be an odd bit of reasoning, since Brandt, after all, was the one who made Chase notorious.

When asked by the CNET interviewer how he would “fix” Wikipedia, Brandt maintained an emphasis on the idea that biographical entries are Wikipedia’s Achilles heel, an belief which is tied, perhaps, to his own reasons for taking Wikipedia to task — a prominent draft resister in the 1960s, Brandt discovered that his own Wikipedia post had links he considered unflattering. He explained to CNET that his first priority would be to “freeze” biographies on the site which had been checked for accuracy:
I would go and take all the biographical articles on living persons and take them out of the publicly editable Wikipedia and put them in a sandbox that’s only open to registered users. That keeps out all spiders and scrapers. And then you work on all these biographies and get them up to snuff and then put them back in the main Wikipedia for public access but lock them so they cannot be edited. If you need to add more information, you go through the process again. I know that’s a drastic change in ideology because Wikipedia’s ideology says that the more tweaks you get from the masses, the better and better the article gets and that quantity leads to improved quality irrevocably. Their position is that the Seigenthaler thing just slipped through the crack. Well, I don’t buy that because they don’t know how many other Seigenthaler situations are lurking out there.
“Seigenthaler situations.” This term could either come in to use as a term to refer to the dubious accuracy of an online post — or, alternately, to refer to a phobic response to open-source knowledge construction. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, in the pro-Wikipedia world, an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today notes that a group of Wikipedia fans have decided to try to create a Wikiversity, a learning center based on Wiki open-source principles. According to the Chronicle, “It’s not clear exactly how extensive Wikiversity would be. Some think it should serve only as a repository for educational materials; others think it should also play host to online courses; and still others want it to offer degrees.” I’m curious to see if anything like a Wikiversity could get off the group, and how it will address the tension around open-source knowledge that been foregrounded by the Wikipedia-bashing that has taken place over the past few weeks.
Finally, there’s a great defense of Wikipedia in Danah Boyd’s Apophenia. Among other things, Boyd writes:
We should be teaching our students how to interpret the materials they get on the web, not banning them from it. We should be correcting inaccuracies that we find rather than protesting the system. We have the knowledge to be able to do this, but all too often, we’re acting like elitist children. In this way, i believe academics are more likely to lose credibility than Wikipedia.

open rights group

Becky Hogge writes in Opendemocracy about a new digital rights organization, The Open Rights Group, based in Westminster, Brussels and Geneva. Like the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the United States, the Open Rights Group will address issues such as access, freedom of speech online, and file sharing. Unlike the EFF — which was initially bankrolled by a small group of beleivers — the Open Rights Group was started by a group of 1,000 subscribers who will each pay five pounds a month to get the organization going.

“open source media” — not the radio show — launches a best-bloggers site

On Wednesday, November 17, a media corporation called Open Source Media launched a portal site that intends to assemble the best bloggers on the internet in one place. According to the Associated Press, some 70 Web journalists, including Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds and David Corn, Washington editor of the Nation magazine, have agreed to participate. The site will link to individual blog postings and highlight the best contributions in a special section: bloggers will be paid for content depending on the amount of traffic they generate.
Far from a seat-of-the-pants effort, OSM has $3.5 million dollars in venture capital funding. Supposedly, the site will pay for itself — and pay its bloggers — with the advertising it generates. In the “about” section of the site, the founders of OSM lay out their vision for remaking the future of blogging and media in general:
OSM’s mission is to expand the influence of weblogs by finding and promoting the best of them, providing bloggers with a forum to meet and share resources, and the chance to join a for-profit network that will give them additional leverage to pursue knowledge wherever they may find it. From academics, professionals and decorated experts, to ordinary citizens sitting around the house opining in their pajamas, our community of bloggers are among the most widely read and influential citizen journalists out there, and our roster will be expanding daily. We also plan to provide a bridge between old media and new, bringing bloggers and mainstream journalists–more and more of whom have started to blog–together in a debate-friendly forum.
We at if:book like the idea of a blog portal, especially one staffed by a series of editors selecting the best posts on the blogs they’ve chosen. But this venture — which fits perfectly with John Batelle’s vision for the web’s second coming — also seems to nicely embody the tension between doing good and making money: all that venture capital and overhead is going to put a lot of pressure on OSM to deliver the Oprah of the blogging world, if she’s out there. And paying bloggers based on how many readers they get is certainly going to shape the content that appears on the site. Unlike others who conceived of their blogs from the get-go as small businesses, most of the bloggers chosen by OSM haven’t been trying to make money from their blogs until now.
OSM also shot themselves in the foot by stealing the name of the newish public radio show Open Source Media, which we’ve written about here. The two are currently involved in a dispute over the name. and OSM hasn’t really been able to come up with a good reason why they should keep using a name that belongs to someone else. They have trademarked OSM, and they now refer to their unabbreviated name as “not a trade name,” but “a description of who we are and what we do.”
Needless to say, OSM has generated a fair amount of bad blood by appropriating the name of a nonprofit, and most of the grumbling has taken place in exactly the same place OSM hopes to make a difference — the blogosphere.